A brand-new numismatic coin, issued by the Central Bank of Malta, pays homage to a very old symbol: the Maltese Cross.
The origins of the eight-pointed emblem reach back to the 6th century, when it appeared as an ornamental feature in Byzantine art and architecture. It was adopted in the late 15th century as a symbol of the Order of the Knights of the Hospital of Saint John of Jerusalem (the “Knights Hospitaller”)—a Catholic military order that ministered to the pilgrims to the Holy Land. The order provided shelter, medicine, and eventually armed escort. The eight points of the cross were said to represent the eight obligations of the order: to live in truth, to have faith, to repent all sins, to give proof of humility, to love justice, to be merciful, to be sincere and wholehearted, and to endure persecution.
In the early 1500s, a Frenchman named Jean Parisot de Valette left his family to join the Knights Hospitaller. He rose in the ranks to become the 49th grand master, and led the Christian forces to defeat the Ottomans in the Great Siege of Malta in 1565. He turned his attention to building a fortress city, Valletta, in the Maltese Islands. The order’s coffers had been drained by the siege; to pay the workers, de Valette ordered the minting of thousands of fiduciary copper coins. These coins, including the copper denomination known by the Maltese as a patakka, circulated for centuries, until their legal-tender status was finally removed on April 25, 1828.
The eight-pointed cross was so strongly associated with Malta that it came to be known as the Maltese Cross; naturally, it has made appearances on circulating Maltese coinage from de Valette’s time to the present. The new Proof 5-Euro issue, struck in 0.999 fine gold by the Royal Dutch Mint, was designed by Noel Galea Bason (who also provided designs for circulating Euro coinage). It weighs 0.5 grams and is 11 mm in diameter, and may be purchased for 60 Euro from the Central Bank of Malta (https://www.centralbankmalta.org/products/gold2016/105/).
The obverse bears the national emblem, the word MALTA, and the date. The reverse depicts the famous eight-pointed cross of the order surrounded by the legend SVB HOC SIGNO MILITAMUS. Dispersed between the arms of the cross are the letters of the abbreviation •F•Io•DV (“Frater Ioannes de Valette”).